Friday, April 7, 2006

John Owen: Chief End in Life

In 1656 John Owen famously wrote in the preface of his penetrating work, Of Mortification of Sins in Believers that the chief end in his life was to promote personal holiness - a goal attested to by David Clarkson in Owen's funeral sermon in 1683. In his preface, Owen wrote,

"I hope I may own in sincerity, that my heart’s desire unto God, and the chief design of my life in the station wherein the good providence of God hath placed me, are, that mortification and universal holiness may be promoted in my own and in the hearts and ways of others to the glory of God; that so the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things (Works VI.4)."

Owen made similar comments throughout his life. For example, in 1677 Owen wrote a similar comment in a prefatory note to Patrick Gillespie's The Ark of the Covenant Opened: or, A Treatise of the Covenant of Redemption between God and Christ, as the foundation of the covenant of Grace. Patrick Gillespie was the younger brother of George Gillespie, one of the Scottish delegates to the Westminster Assembly. This work was the second of an intended five volume series on federal theology. Although, only this volume and the first remain. In his "To the Reader," Owen succinctly (!) states, "The whole design and end of my self…is to promote the knowledge of the truths of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the practise of them."

Owen thought that theology should always be seen as "truth that is after godliness" - no matter how complex the doctrine. In his preface to Gillespie's work, Owen reflects on the vital importance of the Covenant of Redemption not only for a proper understanding of the gospel but also for the Christian life. "For the doctrine hereof [the Covenant of Redemption], or the truth therein, is the very centre wherein all the lines concerning the grace of God and our own duty do meet; wherein the whole of religion doth consist."

For Owen, doctrine was never a matter of idle speculation but a matter of communion with the triune God of the Scripture.

Think you've got stress?

Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Philip James de Loutherbourg, painted 1796

Be thankful you're not an Elizabethan Puritan.

Imagine you’re a zealous Protestant minister, beginning your career around the time of the accession of Elizabeth I. Here are some of the controversies, crises and calamities you can look forward to experiencing before you hit ‘retirement age’ at the close of the century:

If you’re one of the handful of Protestants who has been in exile during Mary Tudor’s brief reign, you’ll need to journey back home – not knowing exactly what you’ll find there.

You’ll be thankful to see your new Queen secure the Protestant faith with her Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy, but you won’t be satisfied with her Council’s vision of an official liturgy. You’ll settle into conformity with a half-reformed national church and begin campaigning for a more thoroughly ‘biblical’ one.

Bishop John Jewel will immediately enter into a robust debate (in print) with a number of prominent English Catholics that will continue for much of the decade, on the merits of Protestantism and the weaknesses of the Roman tradition.

The Queen will almost die of smallpox, while the question of her heir (and his or her religious affiliation) remains very uncertain.

The Church of England will present its official Thirty-Nine Articles, many of which, in your view, still smack of superstition and popery. You’ll still entertain hopes for reform …

Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, will demand that all clergy wear the ‘popish’ square cap, gown, tippet, and surplice while ministering (this was later known as the Vestiarian or Vestments Controversy). You and others who refuse to conform will be called ‘Puritans’ – the first (but not the last) time you’ll be labelled as such. You might be suspended from or even deprived of your post for a time.

Nobles in the north of England will lead a rebellion against Elizabeth (known as the Northern Rebellion), in the hopes of dethroning her and placing (the Catholic) Mary I of Scotland in her place. Thankfully their efforts will come to naught, but …

Pope Pius V will publish his bull Regnans in Excelsis, excommunicating and deposing the Queen for her heretical Protestant views and her treatment of Catholics. The international scene will grow more tense each year, as Rome and Spain make plans to overthrow the Elizabethan government and return the nation to ‘the old religion’.

The same year, a proponent of puritanism and presbyterianism, Thomas Cartwright, will preach a sermon series on the book of Acts at Cambridge. In doing so he will expose the errors in the national church’s episcopal structure – and be deprived for doing so. A debate will ensue between Cartwright’s supporters and those of his main opponent, John Whitgift. New legislation will be written to curb non-conformity as a result.

Another plot to assassinate Elizabeth and crown Mary I of Scotland, perpetrated by Roberto di Ridolfi, will be discovered. The Duke of Alba in the Netherlands will be privy to Ridolfi’s plans.

Bad news from across the Channel: Between 30,000 and 100,000 Protestants (estimates vary) will be slaughtered by Catholic mobs in France, beginning with the assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, on 24th August – St. Bartholomew’s Day.

The first English Catholic priests who have received training overseas at a college in Douai (Spanish Netherlands) will return to England to encourage their brethren and promote Catholicism. This secret missionary enterprise will continue well into the next century, to the chagrin of the Council and Protestants throughout the realm.

Edmund Grindal, an archbishop with great sympathy for your cause, will be reprimanded by the Queen and sequestered for refusing to suppress your godly meetings or ‘prophesyings’. In the wake of his censure John Aylmer, Bishop of London, will be made head of an ecclesiastical commission and will investigate and suspend some Puritan ministers like you.

Two English Jesuits, Robert Persons and Edmund Campion, will return to England and seek to win many back to Rome through various printed treatises, including Campion’s Challenge to the Privy Council. He will be captured and executed the following year, but Persons will escape and continue campaigning for the renewal of Catholicism in England – by religious and political (military) means.

John Somerville of Warwickshire will be arrested while traveling to London with a pistol to shoot the Queen. An unrelated plan to assassinate the monarch and install Mary I of Scotland will be discovered when one Francis Throckmorton is interrogated by the Queen’s ‘spymaster’, Sir Francis Walsingham – a plan involving the Duke of Guise and the Spanish ambassador, Bernardino de Mendoza. One year later you and other Protestants will be dismayed to hear of the assassination of William of Orange, the Protestant nobleman who defends the Netherlands from the Spanish.

John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, will bring a hammer against hotter Protestants like you, demanding that you subscribe to articles respecting the uniformity of the national church and the Book of Common Prayer. You might be one of the 300 ministers suspended as a result.

Yet another plot to murder the Queen and place Mary I of Scotland on the throne will be uncovered, involving Mary herself and Anthony Babington, a nobleman from Derbyshire. At long last, Mary will be convicted of treason and executed.

The Spanish Phillip II will attempt to invade England with the Spanish Armada (pictured), in an effort to depose Elizabeth and restore Roman Catholicism in your homeland. Thankfully providence will bring the defeat of this papal effort.

A series of satirical treatises criticizing the church’s bishops will be published by someone calling himself ‘Martin Marprelate’. This will cause a great deal of consternation among the authorities, and a backlash in print as well. The reputation of those called ‘Puritans’ will ultimately be damaged by these biting (but humorous) writings.

Some Puritan sympathisers, Edmund Copinger, William Hacket and Henry Arthington, will proclaim themselves the Prophets of Mercy and denounce the Queen for her opposition to presbyterianism. Needless to say, this will also damage the image of non-conforming ministers like you.

Thomas Cartwright will get into trouble again, and will be imprisoned and put on trial along with eight other Puritans for resistance to conformity and presbyterian leanings. Eventually they will all be released, but a number of works will be printed defaming their (your) cause, including one about Copinger, Hacket and Arthington called Conspiracie for Pretended Reformation (1592), Richard Bancroft’s Daungerous Positions and Proceedings and A Survay of the Pretended Holy Discipline (both 1593), and Matthew Sutcliffe’s The Examination and Confutation of M. Thomas Cartwright's Late Apologie (1596). Discouraged by these circumstances, Puritans like you will be noticeably silent for the remainder of the Queen’s reign, agitating little …

A royal act eventually known as the “Act Against Puritans” will be passed to suppress ‘seditious sectaries’ like, well … like you. It will decree punishment upon anyone over the age of sixteen who refuses to attend regular church services, or who attends "assemblies, conventicles (uh-oh), or meetings, under colour or pretence of any such exercise of religion".

A controversy will ensue at Cambridge University when Peter Baro and William Barrett preach against Calvinism there. Alarmed faculty will consult the Archbishop, and with him they’ll eventually settle the matter at Lambeth, drawing up a list of nine articles to be affixed to the creeds of the national church. This will be a mere foreboding, though, of future battles between Calvinist and Arminian defenders.

In addition to all this, the plague will visit England several times, taking its heaviest toll in the London area. It will claim 20,000 lives in 1563, 6,000 in 1578, 7,000 in 1582, and 18,000 in 1593.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

William Crowe: On Commentaries

Before Charles Spurgeon, D. A. Carson, Tremper Longman, and Derek Thomas wrote books on commentaries, there was William Crowe. In 1663 he anonymously published An Exact Collection or Catalogue of our English Writers on the Old and New Testament with a second addition in 1668 (pictured).

Crowe was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and became rector of Barnby and vicar of Mutford in 1613. However, Crowe is mostly remembered as a bibliographer. He catalogued the Lambeth Palace Library, assisted cataloguing one of the largest private collections in England (Holdsworth collection), and compiled this list of commentaries. Denied a post as librarian at Cambridge in 1668, he became schoolmaster of the hospital of Holy Trinity at Croydon. He died an unfortunate and tragic death in 1675 and was buried in the cemetery of the parish church at Croydon on 11 April.

His collection of commentaries is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to identify key biblical, exegetical, and homiletical resources that would have been available to the English Puritans. If you have access to the Early English Books Online (EEBO) collection, this work is well worth your perusal. For more info on Crowe, see Simon Lancaster, "Crowe, William (1616-1675), bibliographer and schoolmaster," Oxford DNB.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Select Annotations and Quotations on Supra- & Infralapsarianism: Part III

In this section, I provide a variety of references from systematic theology texts from the 19th, 20th, 21st centuries. Besides orienting the reader to the main players, definitions, and arguments of the debate, these works also illustrate our indebtedness to Protestant Scholasticism for the language of much of today’s theological expression.

Systematic Theologians

Agnostic: Supra- or Infra-?

  • One of the finest treatments of this debate is found in Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, trans. and ed. William Hendriksen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979). However, Bavinck is critical of both expressions of the decrees. “Neither supra- nor infralapsarianism has succeeded in its attempt to solve this problem and to do justice to the many-sidedness of Scripture. To a certain extent this failure is due to the one-sidedness that characterizes both views…Neither the supra- nor the infralapsarian view of predestination is able to do full justice to the truth of Scripture, and to satisfy our theological thinking” (389-390, 392). [NB: I need to update this quote with the most recent translation of Bavinck.]

  • Following Bavinck’s lead, Louis Berkhof provides a helpful summary of the debate. However, he seems sympathetic towards both supra- and infralapsarianism. In his typical matter-of-fact style, he lists the merits and demerits of both positions. See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 118-125.

  • Perhaps one of the most famous comments on this debate came from the 19th century American Southern Presbyterian R. L. Dabney when he exclaimed, “In my opinion this is a question which never ought to have bee raised.” Despite Dabney's ambivalence about this subject, he did consider himself a (reluctant) infralapsarian - or what he called 'sublapsarian.' Robert L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 233.

  • Much like Dabney, Wayne Grudem has little time for the debate, consigning the entire issue to a footnote. “The discussion is complex and highly speculative because there is very little direct biblical data to help us with it. Good arguments have been advanced in support of each view, and there is probably some element of truth in each one. But in the last analysis it seems wiser to say that Scripture does not give us enough data to probe into this mystery, and, moreover, it does not seem very edifying to do so.” Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 679 n12.

  • John Frame gives ten (perspectival!) reasons why he does not take a position regarding this debate. Of interest are his assertions that “The two positions equivocate on the meaning of order and therefore can’t be precisely compared with one another” (point 1); “Surely, in one sense, all of God’s decrees presuppose each other and exist for the sake of each other” (point 4); and “In God’s mind, where the decrees take all others into account, all may be considered ends, and all may be considered means” (point 5). John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 334-339.


  • For one of the best summaries of the history of this debate, see Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/2, eds. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2001), 127-145. Though Barth acknowledges the advantages of the infra- perspective (136-139), he states that “the greater right lay then on the side of the Supralapsarians…In view of its bold consistency and outstanding clarity we surely cannot withhold our admiration from this system” (139, 129). However, Barth self-consciously detaches himself “from the doubtful presuppositions of the older theology” and argues for what he calls a “purified Suprlapsarianism” (142). In other words, his supralapsarianism must be interpreted through his Christomonism.

  • For an extensive and outlined exposition of Amyraldianism, Infralapsarianism, and Supralapsarianism, see Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 475-502. Reymond proposes a nuanced ordering of the supralapsarian position on the basis that the traditional supralapsarian view fails to maintain its own standard by dismissing the principle of retrograde movement. He argues that the order should go as follows: 1.) the election of some sinful men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the rest of sinful mankind in order to make known the riches of God’s gracious mercy to the elect); 2) the decree to apply Christ’s redemptive benefits to the elect sinners; 3) the decree to redeem the elect sinners by the cross work of Christ; 4) the decree that men should fall; and 5) the decree to create the world and men (p. 489).


  • For a strong critique of supralapsarian and clear defense of infralapsarian (much along the lines of C. Hodge), see Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination(Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1966), 126-130.

  • The Princetonians were by no means neutral in this discussion and, in Turrentinian fashion, provide some of the ablest arguments for the infra- position. For example, Charles Hodge gives a short and helpful survey of Calvin, Dort, WCF, and the WSC, a critique of supralapsarianism, and a classic defense of infralapsarianism (including an interesting discussion on Augustine’s infralapsarianism), see Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. II (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), 316-320. A. A. Hodge rightly notes that the question of the order of the decrees is a logical one, “The question, therefore, as to the Order of Decrees is not a question as to the order of acts in God decreeing, but it is a question as to the true relation sustained by the several parts of the system which he decrees to one another.” A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999), 230. Warfield gives four basic views regarding the decree: 1) Supralapsarianism, 2) Sublapsarianism (or Infra-), 3) Post-redemptionism (or Amyraldianism), and 4) Pajonism (or Congruism). Benjamin B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 87-104 (esp. 92-93).

  • For two other 19th century American reformed perspectives, see W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2003), 340-344. Shedd gives a clear defense of preterition and also provides a detailed argument in defense of Calvin as an infralapsarian – contra John Fesko’s excellent dissertation (361-363, supplement 3.6.18). Below the Mason/Dixie line, J. H. Thornwell is much more sympathetic to this debate than Dabney and favors infralapsarian. He sets the discussion within the context of covenant theology and also interacts with a wide selection of confessional literature (e.g. Helvetic Confession, Gallic Confession, Anglican Confession, Scotch Confession, Confession of Dort, Canons of Dort, and Westminster Confession of Faith). J. H. Thornwell, “Outline of the Covenant of Grace and Testimony to Sublapsarianism,” The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, vol. II (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986), pp. 17-27.


  • A. H. Strong serves as an example of the Amyraldian position – or to make matters more convoluted, what he calls 'sublapsarianism' (not to be confused with the sublapsarianism of Dabney or Thornwell), see A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1943), Strong states (note the position of points 3 & 4), “The true order of the decrees in therefore as follows: 1. the decree to create; 2. the decree to permit the Fall; 3. the decree to provide a salvation in Christ sufficient for the needs of all; 4. the decree to secure the actual acceptance of this salvation on the part of some, – or, in other words, the decree of Election” (778).

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

73-57 - Go Gators!

Hats off to Billy Donovan, Joakim Noah, and the Florida Gators. Last night, the Gators dominated legendary UCLA to win their first NCAA championship (10 years after Spurrier led Florida to their first football title).

As a boy, I can remember cheering on the Gators in March but always having to say, 'wait 'til next year.' Now, the waiting is over. Florida is on top.

In a bracket-defying month, the Gators demonstrated why March is the most glorious month for sports lovers. While nobody picked the Gators to win, Florida fans can proudly celebrate this victory. There is no question who the best team is this year. Not Duke. Not Kansas. Not Connecticut. Not UCLA. But Florida. How 'bout those Gators!

Monday, April 3, 2006

John Owen: Sin and Temptation

Justin Taylor previews a newly edited edition of John Owen's writings on the mortification of sin called Overcoming Sin and Temptation. The work will be published by Crossway and edited by Taylor and Kelly Kapic, whose excellent doctoral dissertation - Communion with God - will soon be published by Baker Academic.

Click here for more info.


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